EDINBURG — Pro-abortion advocates from the Rio Grande Valley found themselves exactly where they were about a month-and-a-half ago — on the steps of Edinburg city hall advocating for abortion access.
Chanting “Bans off our bodies,” as well as expletives aimed at Gov. Greg Abbott, they protested the enactment of one of the strictest abortion laws in the country which went into effect across the state Wednesday.
The bill, introduced during Texas’ regular legislative session as S.B. 8, prohibits abortions after the detection of a heartbeat or at approximately six weeks of gestation. However, pro-abortion advocates argue many individuals aren’t even aware they are pregnant at that point and therefore the law, effectively, bans all abortions.
Ivania Gutierrez, founder of RGV Safe Project, said she and others at city hall Wednesday were protesting the new law because they believed it was unjust.
“This is not fair for victims, it’s not fair for people who just want to have an abortion and have a right to their body,” Gutierrez said.
Her organization promotes healthy and safe practices for online dating and attempts to end sexual violence in the Valley, she said. She also teaches sex education, something she said was insufficient in the Valley.
“I think we have to understand that sex education here in the Valley is not the best, and there’s a lot of unplanned pregnancies here and there’s a lot of people that need abortions,” she said. “So our community, especially, is going to be very affected by this law because people will not have the resources to have that safely.”
Under another controversial segment of the new law, anyone in the state is encouraged to file a civil lawsuit against someone who performs or induces an abortion after the prohibited time. They are also authorized to file a lawsuit against someone who knowingly helps someone else obtain such an abortion by helping with costs or reimbursement of costs through insurance.
If those who filed the lawsuit were to win their case, they would be entitled to $10,000 plus attorney’s fees.
Abortion funds and organizations that provide resources to obtain abortions could theoretically become targets of such lawsuits.
“All we’re trying to do is help people,” Gutierrez said. “If someone is in a predicament and they’re scared or they’re lost, they don’t know what to do. All organizations have done is help them and now we can’t do that so it’s really unfortunate because our hands are tied and it’s all because of the state.”
Cathryn Torres with Frontera Fund, a nonprofit organization that provides financial and practical support for abortion access, assured that they would still be available.
“We just spoke here a few weeks ago, upholding our right to choose and defending our bodies,” Torres said, expressing anger at the enactment of the law but adding that she also felt energized.
“We want you to know that we’re not going anywhere,” she said. “We’re here to help you fund your abortion, we’re here to provide the resources and information you need because we know and we believe and we affirm that abortion is health care, it’s essential and it’s radical form of self-love.”
This is not the first time the state enacted legislation that significantly threatened and reduced abortion access in the Valley.
Reproductive Services of Harlingen, one of only two abortion clinics in the Valley at the time, was forced to shut down after a state law that was passed in 2013 required abortion clinics to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals.
Now, only Whole Woman’s Health in McAllen remains as the sole abortion provider in the Rio Grande Valley. Their president and CEO, Amy Hagstrom Miller, said in a statement Wednesday that they would continue providing services.
“As Senate Bill 8 nearly closes down abortion care today, our ability to provide the best health care for our patients has been turned over to self-appointed vigilantes and whoever holds the power at any moment,” Hagstrom Miller said. “Anti-abortion politicians in Texas can no longer hide behind the guise of health or safety — this is an abortion ban, plain and simple. It robs Texans of their ability to make decisions about their health and their futures.
“We have been here before, and we’ll continue serving our patients however we legally can, and fighting for their right to safe, compassionate abortion care.”
The law made waves nationally as well, prompting President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris to each issue a statement calling S.B. 8 a violation of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade.
“This all-out assault on reproductive health effectively bans abortion for the nearly 7 million Texans of reproductive age,” Harris stated. “Patients in Texas will now be forced to travel out-of-state or carry their pregnancy to term against their will.
“This law will dramatically reduce access to reproductive care for women in Texas, particularly for women with low incomes and women of color,” Harris continued. “It also includes a disturbing provision that incentivizes private citizens to sue anyone who assists another person in receiving an abortion.”
Abortion providers sought emergency relief from the U.S. Supreme Court in order to block the law from going into effect on Wednesday while they continued to challenge the constitutionality of the law in the lower courts.
As of Wednesday evening, the court had not taken any action on the request.
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